Bowling for New Year’s

Figures… I come down to Florida to escape the chill and cloudiness of winter and I’m treated with the humid pleasantness of 75 degrees. But, tomorrow comes an “arctic chill,” as they say on the Tampa news. As Dr. McCoy said demurely in one of the Star Trek movies I can’t quite remember right now (Star Trek IV), “Oh. Joy.”

Yeah. It’s supposed to get in the 30s down here tomorrow evening. It’s sure a good thing I packed one pair of jeans and my token sweater, which is a habit Ohioans get into whenever traveling. It doesn’t matter where–Jamaica, Bermuda, Trinidad, Death Valley, Venus–an Ohioan always packs at least one warm outfit in preparation for some unforeseen change in the weather. Living in bipolar Ohio, you just know that you can’t assume anything. Looks like the jeans I was so anxious to shed after landing in St. Petersburg last night will become my attire for the next two days. Thanks, Mother Nature. Thank you very much. You couldn’t let me enjoy some tropical goodness for at least four days? My luck. Of course, my best friend is blaming this weather on me. And she might well be right; every time I went to California as a kid, it would rain and in the summer it rarely rains in California. But it did whenever I went there. It’s also a well known fact that Ohioans–especially Clevelanders–carry with them a cloud of doom that dowses the light of the sun for all those who encounter them.

I can just see my fellow Ohioans jumping up and down with glee, mockingly laughing, “Ha ha.” Well, laugh it up, Fuzzballs. That’s all I gotta say about that!

While the weather is still nice, however, we’re spending our New Year’s Eve bowling. This is an activity Best Friend and I used to enjoy every Sunday for two years before I moved down to North Canton. I used to work on Sundays at the law firm in downtown Cleveland, and then I’d go straight to the Best Friend’s house. We’d go to a Chinese restaurant–different ones every week–and then spend the evening bowling, drinking, bowling, and just having the best of time. It was the one night a week her husband watched the kids and let us have fun. I had no boyfriend. Life was perfect.

Sometimes I look back at those days as a pretty peaceful, easy-going time. I was still living at home and that sucked. But I had my first job and finally some money to spend (since I wasn’t paying rent anywhere). Best friend and I had come back together after our lives took separate directions in college. It was just pleasant.

It was fun, too, because she helped me flirt around with guys. That was nice. Of course, I never had much luck when fishing for men. I’m not too good at “sealing the deal.” Guys always kind of scared me in those last seconds when you both agree that you mutually like each other. I always wanted to pull the emergency brake, feeling sick to my stomach. I can’t explain it. I guess I’m always afraid to cross that line because I have so many requirements for men and even admitting to them that I “like” them or am interested is like making some sort of scary commitment, even when there isn’t yet a commitment to be made. It just opens up a can of worms and I act crazy and my life doesn’t seem to be wholly my own anymore. It’s always hard for me to cross the line of flirtation to even go on a single date. As soon as I commit to that first date, there’s a chance for rejection or I learn something about the person that makes them incompatible and I got all worked up about possibilities over nothing. I don’t care what you say, once both sides have admitted to an interest, disappointment is already a possibility. I just suck at the whole casual dating thing. I’m a freak.

Anyway, those were some good times in our lives. I don’t expect tonight to be like that. You can’t recreate the past once it’s moved on no matter how hard you try. I’ll still have fun–I’m with Best Friend and we’re bowling–but it won’t be the same and there will be a little melancholy in that for me. I’m not good with change. But we’re no longer 22… we’re both 10 years older with 10 years of life and changes behind us… Here we are: one soon-to-be divorcee and one widow. Kind of makes you think. When two sixth grade girls met and dreamed of our lives, this is not quite how we envisioned our lives turning out. I wonder if anyone gets the life they imagined at age 13. I bet some people do.

Because I don’t have access to exercise equipment and I’ve been eating all day, I’ve been feeling fat. I was thinking about this, how I can’t stop obsessing about how fat I am, and I realized that when I was down in Florida visiting my mother-in-law in Thanksgiving 1999, I didn’t exercise while I was here. I don’t remember obsessing about being fat that whole week, like I do now. I was also seven years younger with a better metabolism and I was 130lbs. I am 150 now and despite a summer of 2,842 miles of bike riding, I’m still at that weight. I just can’t seem to drop it. I eat salads every day for lunch. I eat salmon and rice for dinner… sometimes I just have soup… and sometimes I just eat vegetables. I just can’t seem to get my weight down. Back in Colorado, I was 130lbs and the only thing I did different was eat a granola bar only for breakfast. I think I ate smaller lunches and only a potato and veggies for lunch. I feel like I need to just eat saltine crackers for the rest of my life. I’ve really become obsessed with my weight. I’m afraid that I will no longer be attractive to men… It’s hard to be single in your 30s when all the guys around you would prefer to date skinny 20-somethings. Even 50-year old guys would rather date skinny 20-somethings.

I gotta stop obsessing. I feel fat in the outfit I’m wearing right now, so I think I might change into something else so that I don’t bring in the New Year obsessing. I’m supposed to be on vacation having fun, right?

Well, the Best Friend and her boyfriend are at the laundry mat, so I’m just pissing around on my blog. I think I’ll go change my clothes about 50 more times, put on my makeup, and then go read on her screened porch. We’re bowling at 9 until the stroke of midnight. I’m going to partake quite liberally of the alcoholic beverages at the bar and I hope to bring in the New Year blissfully inebriated!

Tomorrow, the Best Friend and I are going to go see Sweeney Todd so I’m excited about that. We’re going to try to get our tattoos done on Wednesday. The tattoo shop wasn’t open today to allow us to make an appointment, so I hope they can fit us in on Wednesday! Otherwise, I’m just going to have to write in to Miami Ink and ask Chris Garver to marry me. No! Did I say that!? I mean, I want to ask Chris Garver to do a tattoo for me… yeah… that’s it… =)

I hope everyone is having a fun and safe New Year’s Eve.

Unitarian Universalist Jokes

Always one to laugh at myself and all that I hold sacred, I’ve decided to share a few UU jokes with you that I recently heard. These are pretty simple.

Q: What do you get when you cross a Unitarian Universalist with a Jehovah’s Witness?
A: Someone who knocks on your door to talk about nothing.

Q: What is a Unitarian Universalist?
A: An atheist with kids.

Har har! Now if you’re getting those jokes, you need to check out this website I just found that generates a joke each time you click the link. They just gave me some good ones, like the following:

A man was being given a tour of Hell by the Devil. “This is the area where we keep people who have violated the food taboos of their religion”, the Devil said. “Behind this first door are the Catholics. These are the ones who ate meat on Friday. Behind the second door are the Jews. They all ate pork. Behind the third door are the Unitarians.” The man looked puzzled. The Devil clarified, “They didn’t partake of tofu, hummus, or free-trade coffee.”

This strikes me as particularly funny, even in my short experience with UUism, because my church sells free-trade coffee in their basement during coffee hour.

Oh, here’s another good one:

Q: How many UUs does it take to change a light bulb?
A: An undetermined number. We choose not to make a statement either in favor of, or against, the need for a light bulb. However, if on your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, that’s fine. You are invited to form a committee, write a poem or compose a modern dance about your bulb for next Sunday’s service, during which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, three-way, long-life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.
(From “Solitaire, Poker and Seeing God” by Roger Peltier, 3/14/04, and as quoted from personal correspondence with Joan Goodwin.)

And another relevant one:

UU Prayer: “Dear God, if there is a God, if you can, save my soul, if I have a soul.”

And people question that this is the right faith for me? Pa-shaw, I say! Okay, I’ll let you generate your own now.

Reflections on 2007, thoughts for 2008

I’m trying to remember where I was on January 1, 2007 at the stroke of midnight. I seem to remember where I was in 2005-06: Toronto with my now ex-boyfriend at a swing dance. I wasn’t seeing anyone last year, but since it’s one of my favorite holidays, I’m usually always out somewhere. Why can’t I remember? I’m getting old and details are out of focus. The first thing I remember about this year was the day before my birthday, spring warmness, and my first 30-mile ride of the year. It’s like I spent January until March in some sort of hazy fog.

Oh, yeah! It just came to me. (I swear, this is not an exercise in creative writing here.) I was at my cousin’s cousin’s (but not my cousin) New Year’s party. This guy, Erik is his name, has a pretty swank house with party room/bar in his attic. I met a cool cyclist gal named Gabe whom I convinced that night to sign up the PVG Tour. She turned up on the first ABC ride I led this year and, I hear, a few other ABC rides.

Right… I remember that night now. I was dressed in my short mini-skirt with my knee high boots. I was hoping to pick up some guys. Even dressed hotly, I never seem to pick up guys when I’m trying to pick up guys.

My not-cousin kept exclaiming to everyone, “This is Heidi. She’s not my cousin.” We think it’s extremely funny that we’re both cousins to Gary, but on different sides of the family–me, being the daughter of Gary’s father’s sister; Erik, the son of Gary’s mother’s sister. Confused yet? Well, suffice it to say that we are not related by blood at all. So it would be totally legal for me to marry Erik. Not that I want to, I’m just saying for sake of explaining our unique relationship to each other.

Well, despite its humble beginnings, 2007 turned out to be a good year. It was like waking up from a coma. My senses were flooded with feeling after six long years of a dark, numb night. I can’t express enough how grateful I am that I found a way to manage my grieving and let go of some of the anger and sadness. Life rolls on and I hope I’m in it for a long time.

The highlight of this year was all the cycling I did. I can’t believe that I not only hit my goal of 2,000 miles, but I surpassed it by an additional 842.8 miles. As much of a bicycle enthusiast as I was, I think I became more hardcore this year. I also think I already rode–and exceeded–the value of what I spent on my bike. The rides that stick out in my mind the most this year are:

  • The Vandalia Freedom Tour in Vandalia, OH (near Dayton)
  • Roscoe Ramble from Wilmot, OH to Coshocton, OH
  • PVG Tour starting from Geneva-on-the-Lake, OH
  • And, of course, my always favorite, the MS 150 from Toledo, OH to Port Clinton, OH

Next year, in addition to the MS 150, I plan to attempt TOSRV (Tour of the Scioto River Valley, from Columbus to Portsmouth, OH and back — 210 miles over two days). I’ll probably do the Roscoe Ramble again, this time enduring the trials and torture of the 75-mile/day route (which I know I will regret). I’d like to try a few different rides that I haven’t done before, such as the Mad Anthony River Rally. Something will undoubtedly come up, I’m sure.

I met a lot of great people in the ABC this year. I’m really glad I gave them another chance and started riding with them. I’ve had so much fun riding, eating, and drinking beers with this group. I see a prosperous future of riding with them again… as soon as the temperatures hit 50-degrees.

Of course, I can’t let a review of the year go by without mention of my favorite–and only–vacation this year: Italy. I know I’ve raved to all my friends and family about how awesome this experience was so I won’t bore everyone with repeated details. Suffice it to say, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the funds at bay to allow me to embark on this adventure. I have found that traveling to other countries not only enables me to experience other cultures and touch with my own hands the structures of living history, but it also broadens my understanding of humanity, the world at large, and my place within it. It is only through seeing and experiencing other cultures that you gain an appreciation and empathy for other people. It’s a very humbling experience to step outside of your own comfort zone for two weeks in a country where there is a definite language barrier. The experience is well worth the shock of something different. The world is a living museum to be traveled and explored and studied.

While I don’t have any international plans for next year (I can only afford them once every couple of years), I won’t be sitting around much either. As stated in an earlier entry, my new year starts on December 30 with a trip to Clearwater, Florida to visit the Best Friend. After about 21 years of friendship, we still act like teenagers when we get together. It’s always a fun time hanging out with her so I expect to come back feeling very refreshed and youthful.

My next trip will be to Sacramento, California in May for my cousin Angy’s wedding. I’m playing the important role of Maid-of-Honor (and only bridesmaid). Angy and I have been like sisters to each other since I met her at the age of four (she was three) at my aunt Sue’s wedding. In that wedding, I played Flower Girl and refused to dance with Ring Bearer because I only wanted to dance with Angy. She and I danced the night away… Oh, you can rest assured all of the special, sappy details of this incident will be included in my Maid-of-Honor toast!

I’m tentatively planning a week in Colorado in August. My dad is on a mission to complete a climb he started up Mt. Elbert (where Mike’s ashes are) in 2002. I know where I get my tenacity from. When forced to turn around because my mom had altitutde sickness on our last climb, my dad began a rigorous workout and diet program that led him to lose a lot of weight. He is now in the best shape of, possibly, his life and he’s itching to bag the peak he failed to attain in ’02. I’m excited to make a return trip to Elbert, for I also want to place the ashes of my husband’s favorite cat at his resting place.

2008 can only bring better things for me as I continue to bring about positive changes in my life. I hope that by this time next year, I’ll have a better handle on where I want to go careerwise and that I’ll be less stressed about the future. I try to repeat to myself the mantra of the Serenity Prayer.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

For so long, I feared Death and thought he was just at my heels. Over the last year, I’ve come to accept that, yeah, Death may be at my heels or the heels of those I love, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it if that is the case. Whether my lifeline ends tomorrow or goes on for another sixty years, I have to act as though I were expecting to live a century. I know this is contrary to the “live each day like it’s your last” advice that is usually given. This “last day” philosophy doesn’t work so well with me because when I live my days like they are my last, I fail to dream or set goals. Why bother going back to school if you think you may die tomorrow? What’s the point of an education for a career you can’t have at this moment? Therefore, I chose to live each day expecting to make it through the next and the next thereafter. If some stone is thrown into this plan, then I will deal with it when the time comes (or not, if I’m dead).

I’m trying to accept the details of my life as they unfold, even when the outcomes are tragic and sad. It’s not always easy, but, as they say, life is not easy. You can either chose to actively participate, risking loss and pain to gain love and happiness; or, you can pull yourself out of the game, risking nothing but gaining only a refuge from suffering. The best things in life come with hard work and some self-sacrifice. More often than not, you are rewarded.

At the risk of sounding like a commencement speach, I say quite boldly that I’m ready to face the challenges and new adventures 2008 brings. Here’s to a year of successful bike rides, new friends, learning experiences, bottles of wine, adventures, house repairs, good books, one or two short ski trips, desserts I shouldn’t eat, blog entries, cat mischief, hikes, highpoints (I need to start bagging peaks again!), good food, spiritual explorations, star parties (didn’t do much of that this year, for shame!), weddings, baby showers (have to endure those despite my distaste of them), Battlestar Galactica, and no weight gain.

A dog and cat’s Christmas…

The only pictures I took yesterday were of my mom’s dog, Foster. He’s an Austrian Cattle Dog and Beagle mix — obnoxious little bundle of joy. But we love him all the same. Since I don’t have cute kid pictures to bore you with, I’m forcing my canine and feline family down your throat instead. =)

In this first picture, Foster sits by the fire, waiting expectantly for the Christmas festivities to begin.

Foster is given a gift of his very own to open! Happy day for doggy!

After begging for and receiving lots of people food, and opening gifts, Foster is ready to crash! All in a day in the life of Foster, my spoiled canine brother…

Cleo enjoys her new fluffy mat, which she does not intend to share with Nicki at all. I am not sure Nicki is going to protest. (Would you mess with a cat that size?)

Blue Christmas

After all my excited holiday preparations and the overall attitude adjustment I’ve undergone this year, I still managed to find myself in a funk yesterday. With me, my attitude for the day is often determined by the way I feel when I wake up — waking up on the “wrong side of the bed,” I suppose. In this case, it was my couch. I slept there Christmas Eve because I get better sleep on my couch since, for some reason, my cat Nicki likes to start walking on my head at 2am if I’m in my bed and I’m too nice to lock her out of my bedroom. Besides, a feeling of general depression had come over me at the end of my aunt’s party on Christmas Eve, so I needed the soothing babble of the TV to lull me to sleep. I watched the last episode of season two of Babylon 5 (the one that revealed Kosh as the being of light, seen by humans as angels and other aliens as similar creatures of myth). Then, I turned to the channel that was playing A Christmas Story for twenty-four hours and fell asleep to the whiny pleas of Ralphie for a Red Ryder BB gun and parental mantras of “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I woke up at 9:30am, just feeling rather deflated. I’d had the kind of sleep where it felt as though I couldn’t get enough of it. I got up only because I knew I had to go to my parents’ house between 1 and 2. I possibly could have slept another few hours. Got up, made coffee, unwrapped my cat’s presents for them (they just don’t get into Christmas like dogs do!). My cats took turns sitting on their new fluffy mat, which I bought them because they seem to dislike sitting on my newly installed hardwood floors. They stared at me as I tried to get them to play with the bouncy-ball-feathered toy I bought them. I guess the concept of a ball with a feather attached sounded good to me in theory, but in reality, the cats just watch it bounce and have no interest in chasing it unless I wave the feathers at them, which defeats the purpose of the ball… I should have gotten them the laser toy I saw. I know they like that one, and that they’ll chase that illusion of a physical dot all around the house and sometimes halfway up the wall if I put it there. That toy was minimum effort on my part; I would just have to sit on the couch and move the laser pointer all over the place.

I kind of felt like a zombie at my parents’ house, walking through the motions of Christmas festivities. We had an unusual Christmas meal of barbecued food: a choice of steak or chicken (I chose steak), butternut squash from their garden, and potatoes. This feast was perfect as far as I am concerned because I’m not too crazy about turkey and I hate ham. I also spent the rest of the day chowing down on vegetables and this great dip my mom made. We really didn’t have any dessert, so when I got home I finished off the pumpkin roll Diane’s mom gave me a few weeks ago after Diane’s orchestra concert. Yum.

Of course, I had to drag my butt to work this morning since I only had one more vacation day left in 2007 and I decided to roll that day over into next week so that I can take the full week off instead of just the 31st through January 3rd as I originally planned. I’m going to Clearwater, Florida Sunday to visit my best friend, Melissa, for New Years. Since I’m returning January 3rd, I decided it was pointless to go to work for one day on Friday.

So here I am at work. Bored out of my mind. I got in at 9am (since I went to the gym late, had to work off some of that crap I ate over the last few days), but no one’s really here so I got a great parking space, close to the door. And it starts all over again.

I can’t really complain. I got some nice gifts, including a trainer for my bicycle so now I can elect to do my cardio on my own bike in my basement on days that I’m too lazy for the gym. Or I can start taking that specialized cadence training class that Bob W from the ABC keeps telling me about. After I’ve paid all the bills from Christmas and my upcoming trip with my best friend. I know I’m going to blow some cash there because I still have to buy her and her kids their Christmas gifts, which I figured was easier just to do when I got there. For the kids, I’m letting them run through a toy store and each select a $30 item. For Melissa, I’m probably going to end up footing the bill for her to get another tattoo. I’m getting the front part — the older, crappier portion — of my tattoo fixed to look as cool as the back part. Then, I swear, I’m done getting tattoos for myself (I promise, Mom!). As for Melissa, I need her moral support while I am enduring the pain of getting inked, which feels like having an Epilady run back and forth over the same spot for an hour. She also said that she couldn’t stand to watch me get a tattoo and not get one herself. Too bad she doesn’t want outerspace-y scenes on her body so we could both claim like tattoo of friendship.

Yet, I don’t know. I was just in a mood. I think waking up alone on Christmas is hard, no matter how much progress you’ve made in your own grieving. Deflation after a big build-up. Maybe I should have gone to church on Sunday. I blew it off because I was supposed to go to a Christmas Eve service with my dad but we ended up canceling our plans because my family’s party was earlier than usual. Sometimes going to church clears my brain and makes me feel vividly when I’m feeling otherwise numb. Maybe it would have helped me focus enough to say a few words to my husband.

The weekend had started off great. Friday, I snuck into my former company’s Christmas party at hole-in-the-wall bar in Northfield. I paid for my own drinks and tried to avoid the glare of a former supervisor who seemed a bit ruffled about my appearance there, even though there were other former employees there. For a moment, though, I kind of wish I’d never left that company. I guess the grass always looks greener on the other side; in this case, that company looks better when you’re not enmeshed in its politics. I guess I miss the social life there more than the actual job.

After I left, I met up with Michael to look at the local Christmas lights, and then we enjoyed wine at Viking Vineyards in Brimfield. It was a fitful beginning to a four-day weekend.

Saturday, Diane, Jeff, and I went to Lock 3 and enjoyed a frightening attempt at ice skating at the outdoor rink there. Then, we walked around the Chriskindl Market and delighted in some Gluhwein — a mulled and heated wine — and candied nuts. We even managed to squeeze in a viewing of the holiday lights at Blossom Music Center. It was a night of exploring the local holiday attractions. Dinner at Ray’s Place in Kent, one of my favorite local establishments.

I don’t know. A dullness kind of slipped into my mind around 10pm on Christmas Eve. Subconscious remembrance that my husband had proposed to me on that night in 1998? My grandma there physically, but not there mentally, at least not in the way I want her to be? Change, the world shifting before my eyes constantly, my inability to hold onto it before it slips through my fingers. My cousin’s wife telling me that though she’d really like to have kids, she’s accepted that it will probably never happen — acceptance, like mine, to the life we’ve landed in but didn’t chose. Recollection that two more of my friends are slipping away from having common lifestyles as they embark on the journey of parenthood, the choice I fight against so rigorously for myself. Always changing, nothing staying the same.

I think too much. Why can’t I be happy on the one day in the year when everyone else is at least attempting to be thoughtful and loving towards their fellow man? Why does this darker side of my personality always take residence in some part of my brain? Why do I have such trouble accepting change? Why does change always make me feel sick to my stomach? Sometimes change is good. People moving through the stages of their lives is a good thing. Maybe it’s because, as mentally healthy as I feel this year, I still feel stuck. Stuck in my career. Stuck in singlehood.

It’s hard to be content in singlehood when you once did have a very nice life with a loving partner. It’s not, though, that I am not happy with myself and my life. I’m certainly not desperate. I would never chose a bad relationship in lieu of loneliness. I can handle being by myself and I do enjoy the solitude of my own quiet activities (as writers are wont to do). I guess it really only bothers me when I’m affronted by the glow of everyone else’s togetherness. This is probably jealousy and I should seek to submerge the feeling deep inside of myself. It’s not healthy and it just makes me crazy.

Still, the feeling’s there. Coming home to an empty house is a let down. I love my cats, but they don’t replace the feeling of snugging next to the warm body of my husband. I wonder if I can ever hug someone again and think about forever. Forever doesn’t mean anything to me anymore. All good things come to an end. It’d be nice to have something that lasts for a good long time — like twenty or thirty years. Except for a few solid friendships (Melissa, Sarah), so far in my ever-changing life, a precious few things have lasted that long. In the sum of your life, the people you knew and loved — those people whose lifelines have intermingled with yours for a time — are all that will really matter. These are the people you’ll miss the most when they’re gone, and vise versa.

Geesh, I’m sure whiny today…

‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve

There’s something holy about candles. I don’t know quite what it is, but when I light them, I always feel like I should say a prayer or take a moment of silence to remember someone important in my life. It was the presence of candles in that cathedral in Florence that drew me into the fold of the mass I accidentally ended up in. To this day, I look at that moment as an awakening of spirituality, a stirring of communion with ancient civilizations that breathed life before me.

Maybe it’s because candles remove the distractions of the modern world, bringing us back to a time when electricity didn’t hum in the walls of our homes, when light didn’t come instantly at the flick of a switch. Simple, yet complex. Two stones when rubbed can make a spark, but it takes a lot more work to produce a flame if you don’t have a set of matches. One flame from a candle produces a lot of heat. The light dances, unsteady. You can stare into it and watch its irregular gyrations. Hypnotizing. When I tinker with meditation, I like to use a candle’s flame as my concentration point. If you watch long enough, you can clear your mind. Listen.

Since the day at the cathedral, I’ve been seeking that feeling of spiritual “warmth,” I’d guess you’d call it. I’ve felt it at moments here — especially at the UU church — but I’ve not connected back up with whatever feeling that I encountered there. It was like standing at the top of a big hill and I saw the whole of everything below me. A moment of clarity, an invitation to life that I accepted gratefully. Perhaps just tradition of the ages, ghosts of all our ancestors, singing from the walls of the ancient land I was standing on. No, not singing, chanting. A language similar to the Italian reverberating from the walls, a language that died with the crumbling ruins of the Roman Empire.

The holidays make me sentimental. Christmas makes me feel Christian. And removes my shame in feeling Christian. Maybe I should go read the first few chapters of the Gospel of Luke in the light of candles and my Christmas tree. I wanted to buy an Advent wreath, but my shame prevented me from getting one. A leopard doesn’t change its spots to stripes. At least not over night. My shame will probably keep me from reading those chapters in Luke. I’ll feel weird. And I’m too antsy besides. My brain is spinning in one of those moods I get in when I’m too excited to sleep. I want to do everything all at once and nothing at all. Just drink in the strangeness of this wild windy night that finally released some snow. As if Christmas can’t pass without the snow. White Christmas.

It’s been five hours since I put that coat of polyurethane on my bay window and the molding around my back patio door. According to the instructions on the can, I can now proceed to sand the excess polyurethane and apply the second coat. I am wondering if I should do that in my moment of wakefulness. It only took me about an hour and a half to put on the first coat. Then I’d be done and something useful would be accomplished this weekend before I slipped into the craziness of holiday celebration. Yet, I need to wake up early tomorrow morning, for my celebrations begin right away.

It’s nice to have the day to myself, though. One day of the four-day relief from work in which I can just think to myself without pressure and without all the trappings of social pleasantries. I like being around people, but some days I just need decompression. Some time with my cats on the couch, watching TV. Right now, I’m trying to finish season two of Babylon 5, which I’d — shocking, I know — never seen before. It’s really a good series and I seriously think that the religious cast of the Minbari culture — most particularly, Ambassador Delenn — is rubbing off on me. I think I know why my friend Kim considers this ambassador her favorite character. Somehow watching B5 doesn’t seem so strange a thing to do on the night before the night before Christmas.

I’m such a cream puff, too. I just watched the episode where the Narn surrender to the Centauri at the battle of the Narn homeworld and tears actually came to my eyes during the scene in which Londo lays down the law to G’Kar in the Council of Aligned Worlds. Damn, that’s good writing if it gets you emotional about a complete piece of fiction. I yearn to write like that, to make people believe in characters I’ve created.

The great thing about this series is that there’s so many layers to it. At the very base of it is my favorite theme of the struggle of good versus evil. In this case, there’s an ancient race called the Shadows who are, it seems, quite evil (without a clear reason as to why… does evil exist simply to be evil?). The Shadows are manipulating the races involved in the series, appealing to their brasher sides.

Dammit, I just read something off that pulled a spoiler on me… I just learned that the Vorlan — this ancient race whose ambassador you see only in an environmental suit throughout the series I’ve watched so far — appeared to humans as angels. Crap. I guess that is what Kosh meant in the other episode I viewed today… Sheridan asked him why he couldn’t show his true form and Kosh replied that everyone would recognize him. (I guess every species would see him in a similar capacity as this older race has visited younger ones throughout their history.)

Which only reminds me of a friend’s theory about the ending of Battlestar Galactica, in which he theorizes the humans will finally get to Earth and that Gaius Baltar — the disgusting, creepy and most selfish character on the show — will become Jesus in our history. A gross, yet slightly tantalizing, interpretation of history, to say the least. What a dark spin on history. It’s kind of ironically funny from a fiction standpoint; kind of depressing if you want to contemplate that kind of thing could be true.

I’m left to ponder why we’re always looking for simple explanations to everything. I guess we know ourselves too well and our capacity to tell a tall story where legend is involved. Seems there’s a lot of writing going on trying to solve the mystery of religion in more “realistic” terms. Trying to pull the strings and untie the knot. I admit that I do it myself. I have several of my own theories about Jesus being an alien. The “star” announcing his birth could have been a space ship (everyone was able to follow it — have you ever tried to follow a star to an exact location?). The miracles were advanced technology (imagine how many things we do daily would appear like miracles to people of that time). The transfiguration was an encounter with the mother ship (wasn’t there light and then Moses and Abraham or someone appeared?).

Not convinced? Well, neither am I, really. It’s just one of those crazy thoughts that come to mind in my study of the Bible. My amusement as a sci-fi geek. But consider my background. To me, everything is a story to be scrutinized and taken with a grain of salt. I have trouble trusting anything written on paper. Which is funny, since I’m so blunt and true to myself when I write. Yet, I know that everything I write is tainted by my own point-of-view — my race, gender, political leanings, cultural understanding of the world. I can’t write anything pure and I can’t expect you to believe that anything I say is true (though, really, it is… from, as Obi-Wan Kenobi would say, “a certain point of view.”). No human can. There’s usually just all sides of the story and then there’s the Truth. But the Truth is always hard to find amidst all the tainted words that surround it.

It’s hard to be a skeptical person. You scarcely trust anything. History is in the hands of the writers, though, and when you realize how fallible we are as record-keepers, you just can’t avoid being skeptical. At least, I can’t. Too many questions fill my head. Blind faith has never been my forte. I trust what my own senses present to me. Which, ironically, is why I do have some faith in some great force undefinable. It’s not blind and it’s certainly not unquestioningly. But yet it’s there.

There’s sanctity in silence, in watching the flames of a candle burning bright. Fire, the stuff of stars (though different than the fire in the candle). In A Short History of Nearly Everything, a well-written book for dummies explaining the tougher theories of science and physics, author Bill Bryson states about the creation of the universe:

What is extraordinary from our point of view is how well it turned out for us. If the universe had formed just a tiny bit differently–if gravity were fractionally stronger or weaker, if the expansion had proceeded just a little more slowly or swiftly–then there might never have been stable elements that make you and me and the ground we stand on. Had gravity been a trifle stronger, the universe itself might have collapsed like a badly erected tent, without precisely the right values to give it the right dimensions and density and component parts. Had it been weaker, however, nothing would have coalesced. The universe would have remained forever a dull, scattered void.

I find religion–or maybe God, but I’m always afraid, ashamed to use that name–in these sort of impossibilities. There’s a point where religion and science are one and it’s at this point where I find my faith. It’s where you ask yourself if all the life we know is a happy coincidence or something far more extraordinary.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. After just stating that I can’t read anything without skepticism, I just quoted a passage from a book. It’s simply what I’m reading at this moment. Tomorrow, I may feel inspired to read The Gnostic Bible again, or the regular Bible, or this book I got about the nature of the universe by the Dali Lama. I’m taking it all in, viewing the story from all sides. The more you know, it seems, the more the nature of the universe unfolds before you. The more of the universe I see, the more my god is revealed–my faith, my religion, my love of life. Somehow, in the generic theology of my late-night musings, I find peace in the mystery of that which I can’t possibly understand but am so curious to explore.

Dreams of summer from a bike nerd

With winter soltice breathing down my neck, I already registered for the MS 150 ride on June 28-29th, 2008. Why? Well, they just opened registration! I couldn’t help myself. I know that I will do the ride, regardless, so I mine as well just put the money down now. I usually sign up in January, anyway. But I figured I’d be signing up for TOSRV in January as soon as registration for it opens.

Okay, I know, I’m a real bona fide bike nerd. I haven’t even gotten to use my new skis and I’m already registering for bike events in 2008. Don’t worry; I will hold back from posting the donation link until at least March. Though, maybe I should post it now, since everyone’s in the giving and money spending spirit… Hmmm… =) Last chance for a 2007 tax deduction…

Well, maybe I’ll post the link tonight after I’ve updated the website with a picture from the 2007 ride…

Making snow angels, shoveling driveways

I spent today staining my bay window and the trim around my patio slider, which I didn’t feel too guilty about wasting the day to do this since a blizzard has come through Northeast Ohio. It’s kind of nice, actually, watching snow fall, and subsequently get blown around in the 35mph wind gusts that happen now and then.

Well, after a day indoors, I went outside to shovel my driveway since we accumulated about 4 inches and I am sure that my car would not be able to make it out of the driveway tomorrow if I didn’t. I am starting to think a snow blower is a good investment. Though, shoveling my driveway for an hour was the only exercise I got all day, so maybe I should just continue to do without a snow blower.

Sidebar: I once got in big trouble as a kid when I blew the surprise for my mom to my dad that he was getting a snow blower for Christmas. I told him it was in the barn, even.

Anyway, after shoveling the drive, I hopped into the yard to make a snow angel. When I talked to my ten-year old godson Dylan on the phone yesterday, and I told him it was starting to snow here, he asked me if I had made a snow angel. He lives in Florida and also told me that it feels like summer outside. Thanks, kid. They start the taunting so early these days.

I took a picture of the snow angel (left) so that I could e-mail it to him. A reminder of the things you can’t have when your winter is like summer. Too bad he doesn’t know the joys of skiing, which I’m going to partake in soon if the weather doesn’t change and melt this magnificent white fluffy stuff away!

Moved by the One

I’ve been recently exploring the apocrypha of the Bible — those books that, for some reason or another, it was decided at the Council of Nicaea that they not be included into the Bible we use today (which Bible, I’m not sure, for the Catholic version contains some of the book deemed apocrypha by Protestants, like the Book of Judith). I got this great book called The Gnostic Bible which includes many of the mystical texts of Christianity that were left out of the Bible and presents them with a scholarly introduction explaining their origins.

The first time I looked at this book, I flipped it open and was moved–and I mean, to the point of goosebumps on my arms–when I read the following passage from the Secret Book of John. In this passage, Jesus explains God to the apostle John. What moved me personally was that this description mirrors my own vision of the Great Divine. Note how “The One” replaces the actual word “God.”

I asked if I might understand this, and it said to me, The One (10) is a sovereign that has nothing over it. It is god and father of all, the invisible one that is over all, that is incorruptible, that is pure light at which no eye can gaze.

The One is the invisible spirit. We should not think of it as a god or like a god. For it is greater than god, because it has nothing over it and no lord above it. (11) It does not exist within anything inferior to it, since everything exists within it alone (12). It is eternal, since it does not need anything. For it is absolutely complete. It has never lacked anything in order to be completed by it. Rather, it is always absolutely complete in light. The One is

illimitable, since there is nothing before it to limit it,
unfathomable, since there is nothing before it to fathom it,
immeasurable, since there was nothing before it to measure it,
invisible, since nothing has seen it,
eternal, since it exists eternally,
unutterable, since nothing could comprehend it to utter it,
unnamable, since there is nothing before it to give it a name.

The One is the immeasurable light, pure, holy, immaculate. The One is unutterable and is perfect in incorruptibility. Not that it is part of perfection or blessedness or divinity; it is much greater.

The One is not corporeal and is not incorporeal.
The One is not large and it is not small.
It is impossible to say,
“How much is it?
What kind is it?”
For no one can understand it. (13)

The One is not among the things that exist, but it is much greater. Not that it is greater (14). Rather, as it is in itself, it is not a part of the eternal realms or of time. For whatever is part of a realm was once prepared by another. Time was not allotted to it, since it receives nothing from anyone: what would be received would be on loan. The one who is first does not need to receive anything from another. Such a one beholds itself in its light.

The One is majestic and has an immeasurable purity.

The One is a realm that gives a realm, life that gives life, a blessed one that gives blessedness, knowledge that gives knowledge, a good one that gives goodness, mercy that gives mercy and redemption, grace that gives grace.

Not as if the One possesses all this. Rather, it is that the One gives immeasurable and incomprehensible light.

What shall I tell you about it? Its eternal realm is incorruptible, at peace, dwelling in silence, at rest, before everything (15).

It is the head of all realms, and it sustains them through its goodness.
We would not know what is ineffable, we would not understand what is immeasurable, were it not for what has come from the father. This is the one who has told these things to us alone (16).

– Secret Book of John, translated by Marvin Meyer

Maybe I’m easily wooed by poetic writing, but I really like all the contradictions. It reminds me of beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (even though I’m not a fan of Dickens or this book), “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”

But to me, God would be a contradiction of Himself: alive, but not alive (in our sense of alive); creator of life, but also a part of life; within the Universe, but outside of it. The Master-Creator-Of-All–The One, as he is described here–would not be something we humans could easily define in our own terms. I think really that is the point of this explanation. Not even Jesus, in his human skin, cannot explain it to his people. He is also limited by the clumsiness of our inarticulate speech.

Separating myself…

Today I talked to a grief counselor about her career to get a realistic view of grief counseling in order to judge whether or not this is the career path for me. I’m happy to report I had a delightful conversation with her that was, at times, very exciting because what she said matched my own interpretations of our society and how we (dysfunctionally) deal with death. I could probably talk to this woman for hours and not gotten bored (though, she may have eventually gotten bored with me). It was enlightening to touch upon the many questions I had about this profession and the program at Kent. I was surprised with the ease at which I interviewed her (interviewing has always made me nervous as a technical writer) and how my confidence level burst forth from me the way I wanted it to. My self-esteem is sometimes wounded and I have to concentrate hard to be the person I am in front of my friends. But I feel like I did it! Hopefully, I came off to her as balanced as I felt and that she didn’t think I was just another widow longing for closure by fixing the ills of society.

I mean, on some level, that’s why I want to be a grief counselor — to take something very negative that happened to me and turn it into something positive. At the same time, however, I feel I have had my closure with grief. I’ve finally accepted what happened to me, I embrace the occasional trip into grief when it comes, and I’ve learned to appreciate it instead of being angered by it. As I told the grief counselor this morning, I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, for it’s merely a sign of how much I loved my husband that my heart occasionally skips or a tear falls down my cheek when I remember him. It’s an ode to him, really; a testament to the power of our love. What a beautiful, glorious thing! Mike is not gone because I remember him; because I remember him, it hurts a little. I would not be human if it didn’t. It’s okay to hurt; it’s not okay to let the hurt rule your life. I’ve reached the place where I know this precious balance.

She did caution me against letting my own story overshadow that of a patient’s. Separating myself from my patients could possibly be the biggest challenge for me in this job. As a counselor, my role would be to listen, not to be heard. I’ve had my chance, I’ve talked to my counselors. Now, in giving back, I have to truly be there for other people. I will have to withdraw my own emotions and prevent myself from correlating my grief with the patient’s. This could be very hard. Empathy is one of my biggest assets. Somehow, I have to learn how to be an empathetic listener without emotionally wrapping myself in my patient’s misery and projecting my experience on his/hers. Though everyone experiences grief through similar stages, each person’s grief is different. I have to always remember that.

I think I can do that, but I do think it will be hard. Still, I’m hopeful. Lately I’ve been a lot more controlled — less likely to cry — when others share with me their own stories. I haven’t perfected it — sad movies make me wail like a baby. I actually want this bad enough to try. I know I’m made of tough stuff. If my mom can look unflinchingly at an open wound, then I’m sure I can teach myself to not blink when presented with people’s emotional wounds.

The grief counselor admitted there are cases that she can’t take on because they make her too emotional and she can’t separate herself from the therapist with a patient: abusers of children or animals. (I wasn’t too surprised, as her little dog was also present in her office during the interview.) She admitted to me that she has these weaknesses. She believes she’s successful because with loss issues, she is able trade her emotional persona for her professional one.

As I sit here, I think about all the other things that could be hard to get used to in the coming year if I choose this path: studying, balancing work and school, the financial crunch. I am used to my lifestyle now of working and playing as I want. It will be a challenge to put myself into that mode again. It’s not forever, though, and in the end, I may be more fulfilled career-wise than I’ve ever been. So I need to take the jump!

The grief counselor praised my initiative in applying to volunteer in the bereavement group at a hospice (as I have done recently). She told me that is one of the things she would have told me to do. She gave me a long list of books I can begin reading to get my feet wet, some of which are personal accounts of grief, and, in my excitement to get right to it, I started adding those books to my wish list on so that perhaps my family can get them as Christmas or birthday presents.

She gave me some useful advice about the counseling program at Kent; mainly, that there are no elective courses on grieving because the State of Ohio feels there are already too many requirements for certification of counselors and she can’t get the school to put through any class of this type. However, this is not a problem localized to Kent; there are no completely adequate grief counseling programs anywhere in the United States. Why? Because health insurance companies won’t classify grief as a condition worthy of treatment, like chronic depression or other mental disorders. Even though most people who come to grief counseling tend to be more of a short term issue that often has a terminus in treatment (unlike other mental serious mental disorders).

I smiled and excitedly told her that that sounded like a reflection of our society’s nervous tendency to sweep grief and grievers underneath the carpet. It reminded me of how my company’s bereavement pay — even for a spouse — was three days, which is completely inadequate. I experienced often the discomfort of people who just wished I’d “move on” and fix my sadness in the arms of another lover (just weeks after I’d lost my husband).

To my glee, she nodded enthusiastically and added detail and examples to my argument. I felt such relief, almost as if I’d just passed my first test.

Despite the unavailability of grief-specific courses, she advised me to always use my class assignments in counseling to further my own research in grieving, almost like an independent study. She said that there were many opportunities for me to do this and I should whenever I can. She also told me about some classes I could take through the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) at their annual conferences.

It was a really, really good day. I left her office feverish with excitement and hope. Every once in awhile, I feel like I’ve found my way back to the path I’m supposed to tread. This entire year has slowly led me back to this path and I’m really grateful. I’m a little leery of this current direction I’m investigating because I’ve wanted to go back to school for so many different reasons so many different times over the past several years. I’m worried that I’m lying to myself or getting over-excited about this thing because I’m so overwhelmingly disgruntled with what I’m doing now. I guess I can comfort myself with the fact that I’m doing the right things by investigating this before making any rash decisions. And it’s certainly a really good sign that each one of these explorations (first the death and dying seminar and now this interview) have gotten me successively more excited even after facing the details, learning about the difficulties. I guess I’m always a little unsure about my decisions. Nothing is as clear and simple as it was when, in high school, I was choosing a college… All I can do is keep walking and hope that I’m haven’t missed some vital trail blaze.